Category Archives: politics

50 thoughts on turning 50: #20 Put a face on the problem

Once upon a time, I had a lot of opinions about stuff. People, religion, politics, lifestyles, sexual orientation. Most of what I believed I learned in books and church.

Then I actually put faces to issues and life changed for me.

This is on my mind this week thanks to news reports about proposals to create local housing for illegal immigrant children out of former warehouses and retail space. A lot of people are questioning where the children came from and why are we taking care of them rather than sending them home.

Illegal immigration is a tough one for me. Yes, I believe in obeying the law. Yes, I believe illegal immigration is causing serious problems – like people entering the US without proper immunizations and sparking a resurgence of diseases like measles; crimes caused by illegal immigrants; the destruction of private property along the border (check out the 2006 documentary “Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration“); the crushing burden on our educational and health care systems.

But there are these other nuances to the issue that, unless you really look for them, would leave you with the belief that the problem can be solved with the wave of a wand.

Like what to do with illegal immigrant children.

A few years ago, I watched the 2009 documentary “Which Way Home“. It completely changed the way I view illegal immigration. The number of children trekking from South America to the United States is staggering. More than 100,000 children were taken into custody every year, on their way to a better life, in search of their parents, or escaping abuse and poverty. And that’s just the number we know about; who really knows how many children die or are lured in the drug and sex trade along the way.

It caused me to think more about the reality of the situation – could I put a child on a bus back to Mexico if I knew they were going back to forced prostitution, for example? What do we do with otherwise law abiding illegal immigrants who’ve been here for years and are ingrained positively in their communities? I ended up with no answers but a lot more insight into an issue that really doesn’t have a blanket solution and can’t be addressed with bumper sticker politics.

The broader lesson? If you’ve got a strong opinion on an issue, take time to put a face to it. Against gay marriage? Befriend a gay couple. Anti abortion or pro life? take someone of the opposite opinion to lunch – once a week for a year. Pro gun? Befriend someone who has lost a child in a gun accident. Anti gun? Take a class in gun safety and learn how to fire a pistol.

I don’t have any answers to the problems or political issues. But I do know that you can’t really have a legitimate opinion on something until you’ve honestly faced the other side of the issue. And the best way to do that is to listen.

I think I’ve developed more compassion and a broader world view, as well as more desire to actually consider an issue rather than just blast an opinion on social media and move on with my day.  That doesn’t mean you can’t take a stand on an issue or argue for reform or believe with every fiber of your being that your side is right. It does mean that you move forward with more grace and humility in all areas of your life.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.


What Would Susan B. Say: “The Bachelor”


“I would not object to marriage if it were not that women throw away every plan and purpose of their own life, to conform to the plans and purposes of the man’s life. I wonder if it is woman’s real, true nature always to abnegate self.”

- Susan B. Anthony, letter, 1888 (as quoted in “Failure is Impossible”, by Lynn Sherr)

I’m embarrassed to admit it but I’ve been watching this season of “The Bachelor”. Not because I’m enjoying the show, but because it’s like a massive train wreck that I can’t tear my eyes away from.

Am I the only one who sees this show for what it is: a dating game that sets women’s rights back a hundred years?

If you’re not familiar with the premise of the show, here’s a recap: Handsome Guy is presented with a group of about two dozen women, all who are vying to become Mrs. Handsome Guy. Handsome Guy whittles the group down by wooing the ladies with outings to exotic locales, fancy dinners and romance, and generally trying to get them all to fall in love with him. Once he’s done that, he picks the one he wants and offers her a proposal of marrige. The women, on the other hand, have convinced themselves the day they meet Handsome Guy that they’re desperately in love with him; they then befriend and betray each other, all with the goal of sticking around to the end and hopefully get the coveted marriage proposal.

It looks very much like emotional prostitution. Continue reading

Tracing my family tree: my ignorance of world history and how it affects my family tree

In the 1930 census, my great grandfather’s family said they were from Northern Ireland, my great grandmother’s family from Irish Free State. That I don’t even understand the difference makes me realize how truly ignorant I am.

One of the things that has been really driven home to me as I research my family tree is just how ignorant I am – about my ancestors, about world politics, about U.S. history.

Take today’s new discovery: I’ve been curious about why, in some census records, my family identifies themselves as from “Ireland,” sometimes from “N. Ireland,” and sometimes from “Irish Free State.”

To get some clarity about why that might be, I wrote to the Association of Professional Genelogists in Ireland. I got a quick response from Nicola Morris, who explained that the term “Irish Free State” was only used after 1922, when the Irish Free State was established following the War of Independence. It follows the ratification of a controversial treaty of 1922. Morris explains further:

“This term referred to the 26 counties that today form the Republic of Ireland.  It was not uncommon to find families in the US using the term Free State when referring to the origins of their parents or grandparents. It would have distinguished their place of origin as being from the 26 counties rather than ‘Northern Ireland’   Also, if any family had a republican leaning, it would perhaps have been important for them to acknowledge the steps that Ireland had taken to independence prior to 1922.  The Irish republican movement raised a great deal of money for the support of the state in the US, so the details of the struggle were well publicised in Irish circles in the US.”

Going back through census data, I learned that before the 1930 census, all of my Irish ancestors simply identified themselves as being from Ireland.

In the 1930 census, however, they got more specific. The Larkins and Maloneys now considered themselves from Irish Free State, while the Sheerins and McDade/McDevitts (that’s another mystery) noted they were from N. Ireland.

From what little I understand so far, discussion around the dinner table might have taken a bit of an interesting turn, seeing as how my great grandather James Sheerin’s parents had Northern Irish ties while my great grandmother Mary Ellen Maloney’s parents came from Irish Free State.

I always wondered how my Irish and Italian grandparents connected, but now I’m curious about how politics in Ireland might have affected life here in the U.S. for my family.

I think we forget that when our ancestors came to the U.S. they didn’t necessarily break all ties from home. I have no idea if my family was politically active – my guess would be not, but then again you don’t have to be involved in politics to have an opinion and voice it. But either way, that they identified themselves as either one side or the other does suggest they were still very connected to what was going on back in Ireland.

Another day, another mystery … and another topic to research.


Window shopping with my sister, Colt and Sig

Some women go window shopping for shoes. Today, my sister and I went window shopping for something waaaay more fun. They had these in my size:

My sister is an NRA certified handgun instructor, so it was fun to go and have her explain guns, and have Mark at Beikirchs show me all sorts of nifty weapons and answer my stupid questions. I felt very comfortable after handling several that I could comfortably carry and use one – I like the Sig; it felt comfortable in my hand, it’s small enough that I think I can carry it in my pocket or a holster while I”m out walking, and I’d definitely feel safer taking the dog out into the wood hiking around.

It took me 2+ hours when I got home to find my pistol permit. Now all I have to do is save up my pennies.

Until then, anybody up for doing a personal defense class with me? My sister can teach it – we can have some fun and learn how to hit an intruder in his trachea and make him go away. Then we can learn about guns. :)

Warnings on cigarette packs too much information

One of the new photos that will be required on cigarette packs by 2012. (Photo source: FDA press release)

Let me state right off the bat that I am not a smoker. I’ve never been a smoker. I hate cigarette smoke. I hate it when someone smokes near me or smokes and then comes near me. Smokers have no idea how much their breath smells and the stench of cigarette smoke hangs on their clothes, in their hair, on their skin. (In the interest of full disclosure, I equally hate strongly scented candles and when people douse themselves in extremely noxious cologne.)

I am also married to a smoker and have a smoking daughter and mother and extended family members. I am a non-smoker in cigarette land.

Having said that, I have to comment on the new FDA warning labels that will be required for all cigarette packages by 2012.

If you missed the story, cigarette packs – which already carry warning labels about cancer and nicotine addiction, in addition to hefty taxes designed to deter smokers from smoking – will now be adorned with gruesome photos of rotting teeth, diseased lungs, dying smokers hooked to oxygen and even an actual corpse.

I”m not sure how other non-smokers feel about this, but I say that this is just one more example of governmental interference. Continue reading

Illegal immigration, children focus of moving documentary “Which Way Home”

I just finished watching the Academy Award nominated documentary called “Which Way Home”, which profiles children migrating from Central America and Mexico to the United States with dreams of a better life.

For some, it means finding a parent who left to find work in the States and never came home. For others it means escaping an impoverished or neglectful homelife.

While the film doesn’t focus on child trafficking, you don’t have to look too deeply to understand how children can essentially disappear off the face of the earth at the hands of smugglers and traffickers. Promised entry into the States, some are handed from smuggler to smuggler, and if they’re lucky taken into custody by immigration before something horrible happens to them. A few make it to their destination, alive but scarred physically and emotionally.

Others simply fend for themselves, hopping trains that take them further and further north towards to America, where cities gleam and jobs await, and the prospect of crossing the desert while avoiding immigration – and death – is just a fairy tale.

 But it’s estimated that the Border Patrol apprehends 100,000 children trying to enter the U.S. Children, not adults. No one really knows how many children make it to the U.S., give up and go home, or die in the desert.

Watching the documentary, I was left unsettled. I’m all for enforcing immigration laws, but there’s a human side to every political issue that needs to be handled with compassion. Sending a child home to parents who abuse him isn’t necessarily the answer. But what can person could do? Sponsor a child looking for a better life? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer.

If you get time, check out “Which Way Home.” I watched it on Netflix via my Roku. You can see the trailer and learn more on the film’s website. I’d love to know what you think.

Whose bright idea was this new voting system, anyway?

One last thought about today’s vote: here in NY we used a new voting system of paper ballots instead of our tried and true voting booths.

Here’s how I voted the old way:

I went to the table, signed in, and waited in line. When it was my turn, I went into the booth, pulled the curtain lever closed behind me, and – in absolute privacy – clicked the levers for my choices. If I accidentally tried to vote twice in one row, the lever wouldn’t move, alerting me to my goof. When I was finished, I pulled the curtain lever open, which cast my ballot and returned the lever back to normal. Stepped out, and got my “I Voted Today” sticker. Everyone was always smiling and happy.

Here’s how I voted today:

I went to the table, and waited while the election inspectors had a debate about where a book of ballots went, and why they weren’t logged onto the sheet, and what time they started a new book because someone hadn’t marked it down. Then I signed in, and was handed a big paper thing. I asked what I was supposed to do with it, and the woman opened it, told me how to fill it out ala standardized tests from school, and handed it back. I then asked where I was supposed to do this, and was directed to a table in the middle of the conference room. On the table were cardboard dividers where I was supposed to sit. I found a spot and began to fill in the bubbles on my paper ballot. I had to be careful because if I goofed I had to get a new ballot. If I goofed and didn’t catch the error, the vote in that category wouldn’t count. As I sat there, a woman on the other side of the table looked over the divider and said, “What did you get for #2?” and laughed. When I finished filling in my ballot, I closed it in the privacy cover and went to the scanning machine, where I was instructed to slide it into the machine. It accepted my ballot and I got my “I Voted Today” sticker. Everyone looked cranky.

I didn’t feel any privacy, and frankly thought the process was 100 steps backwards from a technological standpoint. I mean, paper ballots? What is this, student council? And how many trees died so we could vote like this?

Anyway, from what I understand, here in Monroe County we’ve kept our machines in tip top shape, but that wasn’t the case across the whole state. So while our voting machine experienes were great, it may not have been so cheery in other places in New York.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that I voted.